“You ain’t trying
You ain’t loving
You don’t love me
We not reaching
Blindly in love,
I f*cks with you,
‘Til I realize,
I’m just too much for you…
I’m just too much for you.”
So, here’s the thing: I’m that bitch.
Sorry if my language offends—perhaps you’d prefer “chick”, or “girl”—but this is my blog, so I’ll police my own language, thankyouverymuch. Plus, if you also consider yourself “that bitch,” you’ll agree that neither of the above alternate terms quite encompasses the overarching prowess that we possess.
To be quite clear, “that bitch” is a self-designation available to any woman who stands confidently in the conviction of her own worth: her attractiveness, yes—but also her brilliance, her talent, her strength, her success, her capacity to love and to nurture, and her capability to navigate this world with or without assistance.
Besides, this is no time for polite conversation. We need to have a serious discussion about “Lemonade.”
After all, with its release, Beyoncé—patron saint of “those bitches”— basically sent up a battle cry for the women she called to get in “Formation” two short months ago. Our revolution is literally being televised.
On The Root, I’ve written about how “Lemonade” is a meditation not only on infidelity, but forgiveness. But clearly, one think piece—or one hundred—is not enough. There’s a lot to unpack here. And while there is ongoing speculation about whether or not this “visual album” is autobiographical, most of us have readily and enthusiastically agreed that it is about, in honor of, and therefore, ultimately for Black women.
But what we haven’t discussed at length is a much simpler hypothesis: that Beyoncé made this album for her daughter.
To be honest, while I’ve always admired her talent, I’ve never identified much with Beyoncé. I say this despite the fact that like her, I identify as a beautiful, talented, dynamic woman; a woman who has achieved a certain level of credibility in a notoriously brutal music industry; an indisputably sexy, but nevertheless so-called “good girl” who never “gave it up,” because I’m professional (shoutout to “6 Inches”).
But I simply didn’t see myself in the Queen Bey. Or maybe I felt that she couldn’t possibly identify with me.
This was not only because she existed in a much higher stratosphere of success, but because her image was so carefully crafted as to almost completely obscure the messiness of life that I knew so intimately; the inescapable and sometimes arduous reality of living while black and female, no matter how successful. For me, even her most painful and beautiful ballads seemed to be a façade—just the requisite amount of pathos necessary for a multi-dimensional album.
That has now changed. And though I am neither a wife nor a mother, let alone of a young daughter, I now see myself—and my mother, my sister, and so on—in Beyoncé. And with this album, she has shown that she sees herself in all of us.
Your layers are showing, Bey.
Whether or not the narrative of “Lemonade” is truly her own; on the whole, Beyoncé’s catalog has been a coming-of-age story: first, as an ingénue, newly aware of her sexuality and deliriously happy to find herself “crazy in love,” for perhaps the first time. Then, she reincarnated as a grown woman proud to be blissfully married and a new mother, “drunk in love” with her partner in both love and prestige. And finally, she presents us an introspective wife and mother, devastated and disillusioned to find that she has been “blindly in love” (as sung in “Don’t Hurt Yourself”) with an unfaithful husband, and now struggling with whether—and how—to forgive.
“God is God; and I am not”
Though beautiful, it’s not merely for aesthetic value that spirituality is omnipresent throughout “Lemonade”—via the invocation of deities/symbols/covens/crowns of thorns/revivals/baptisms/shamans/etc. As the poetry of Warsan Shire reminds us throughout, there is a curse that must be broken; a legacy of betrayal that has been handed down from daughter to daughter, which presumably, Bey would like to end with her. As my own mother would attest, a mother will go to any lengths to protect her child from pain; let alone, her own mistakes.
If it is to be taken literally, “Lemonade” is a testimonial. It is a visual album, yes; but also a visual diary of a very specific moment in the history of a family, as seen through the lens of a black woman, albeit one of the most successful and privileged black women in the world. But it is precisely this fact that makes it such a teachable moment, both for Blue Ivy, and for the rest of us.
“Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.”
This is the reality, even for music royalty: There is no amount of privilege that can protect you from pain. Being “that bitch”—even “the baddest woman in the game,” as she reminds us in “Hold Up”—doesn’t ensure that the man you love will know your worth. Neither does beauty; because even pretty hurts, doesn’t it?
So, what is to be done when the façade inevitably comes crumbling down, when we discover that even that bitch bleeds when wounded by betrayal: That she may question her own worth and wonder how she might change to better suit the person who betrayed her? And how are we supposed to protect our daughters—our often silent witnesses—from becoming, as Jozen Cummings noted in his blog, conditioned to accept men who treat them this way?
“Your mother is a woman. And women like her cannot be contained.”
The words are Warsan’s, but as Beyoncé delivers them, I can’t help but wonder if she is speaking to her own daughter, encouraging her to instead claim that other part of her legacy; the part that is a strong and self-sufficient woman, an unstoppable force who entirely knows her worth.
Indeed, in three of the first four tracks of “Lemonade”, while evoking iconic feminine power from Osun to Nefertiti, Bey also invokes and elevates the most damning characterization of black women: she is undeniably, unapologetically and justifiably angry. She makes no attempts to hide it, temper it or back down from its ugliness or rawness—even its crudeness. And that’s what makes it beautiful.
She reminds us that it is she who has always seen the worth in her partner, even while he may have looked for validation elsewhere. She reminds him that she doesn’t need the material things he has to offer—she never has, because she has her own. She declares that she is fully capable of keeping herself and her child in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. And in the aforementioned “6 Inches”, she asserts herself as a woman who has always been on her grind, with or without him, and without ever needing to betray her sexuality to build her empire.
For black women, this is a reaffirmation of our capabilities and our worth. For black daughters, it is a lesson in womanhood: these are the standards to which you should be able to hold yourself, so that you will never have to ask a man for anything…except his love, respect and loyalty.
And while it is love that ultimately saves the day—and for the foreseeable future, the union—it comes at the cost of the inherent trust that should hallmark any solid relationship. Beyoncé is digging deep into the roots of her own legacy of distrust, exorcising demons and making peace with the past, in hopes of giving her child a clean start.
Notably, in “Daddy Lessons,” Bey not only sings that her father warned her about men like himself, but reveals personal footage of her father and herself as a child, followed by more recent footage of him playing with her own child. It is a full circle moment; the type that so many of us are denied in the absence of our fathers—or in the presence of fathers who cannot be accountable for the damage they may have done.
And it is exactly this type of accountability—and vulnerability—that we’re allowed to witness in “Sandcastles.” One of hip-hop’s living heroes stares into the camera in what seems to be contrition. A tenuous truce has been called, and once again, commitment takes center stage. To see this icon literally at his wife’s feet is a visual that upends the presumed power dynamic. Whether true or not, he is willing to portray himself as a man in the wrong, in need of healing, and in need of his woman.
This image was so arresting to so many of us; I can only imagine that what an impact it might have on an older Blue Ivy, fully aware of the truths and possible challenges of her parents’ marriage.
“The second girl crawls headfirst up my throat; a flower blossoming out of the hole in my face.”
In motherhood, Beyoncé has found another voice: one that not only speaks up for herself, but for her child, and perhaps for black children everywhere. “Freedom” speaks to the penance that she has done for her previous silence—on everything from infidelity to injustice. In risking making the personal public, she is liberating herself.
Once again, she is declaring that privilege is no protection from pain. And I, for one, am not willing to deny this woman her humanity—or her experience. Though she is allowing the entire world to speculate on the state of her union, perhaps she feels it’s worth documenting this for the sake of her daughter—to show Blue Ivy her mother, in both her full glory as an artist and her full breadth as a woman.
However the story ultimately ends, her daughter will know her not only as a phenom, but a fighter.